Sunday, July 26, 2009

Omit Needless Words

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White is required reading for anyone who wants to be a competent writer.

The most famous message from this book, and the message that stuck with me for more than twenty years since I first read this 85-page booklet, is Strunk's commandment to "omit needless words."

If you find yourself struggling with a writing task, go through your text and omit needless words. Then make another editing pass and do it again. And again. This technique forces you to strip out all of the irrelevant stuff that distracts you and your readers, and it boils your message down to its cleanest and clearest form.

And I've always loved the irony of how Strunk omitted needless words when he said "omit needless words." How cool is that? If he said, "remove all extraneous words" or "get rid of any words that aren't completely necessary" nobody would remember the phrase.

Sometimes three words is exactly enough.